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8 posts from December 2011


Readers upset with Scrooge column on Wednesday

I've heard from several readers who were hopping mad about the column we ran on Wednesday's Opinions page from Eunice Biel, of Preston, a member of our Editorial Advisory Board. Eunice wrote that she's not a big fan of all the hoopla around this time of year. She doesn't care much for incessant Christmas music, she's never bought into the whole Santa Claus myth, and if it were up to her, her family would never put up a Christmas tree.

Yup, pretty "Scroogy." But you would have thought she'd suggested we merge with Canada and Mexico, based on the response I got from several of our readers. She's "sick," one reader told me on the phone this morning. "Why did you see fit to print such garbage," another reader said. "If that was supposed to be comedy then why didn't you run it on the Comics page," I was scolded.

Here's an email we received from an anonymous reader:

Shame on you for publishing this "Scrooge ranting", my husband is hearing impaired & would be overjoyed, to once again, be able to hear Xmas music.
It's very simple, if the season bothers you stay home ,turn off the radio,
shop as little as possible,enjoy your misery,but don't inflict it on others.

 Lighten up, people. It was OPINION. Says so right at the top of the page.

Hopefully we'll redeem ourselves on Christmas Eve with a couple of absolutely lovely Christmas time columns by Paul John Scott and Rob Artley.

Merry Christmas everyone!




A fond Christmas memory

This week on the Opinions Page, we're running a series of Christmas remembrances from members of our Editorial Advisory Board. As I was looking through past holiday-related columns I ran across this column from Dec. 19, 2000. It remains one of my fondest Christmas memories...

I normally try to stay away from sentimental reminisces in this column. They make me cry, and weeping seldom goes over very well in the newsroom.

But holiday memories, for some reason, stick in my mind with vivid clarity. So, I just can't help it. Here is one of my favorites:

In 1978, I flew home from college at the University of Missouri for a two-week holiday break. I'd made arrangements for my Dad to pick me up at the airport in the Twin Cities early Christmas Eve night and take me home to Brainerd.

I was eager to get home. I hadn't seen my girlfriend in four months and I was looking forward to visiting with my family and some good home cooking.

But when I hooked up with my Dad at the airport he asked if it would be all right if we took a detour on the way home and stopped by my grandparents' house in tiny Hewitt, Minn.

At first I was reluctant. But I hadn't seen Grandma and Grandpa Sellnow in nearly a year, and I felt guilty about that. So, we went.

I'm glad I did because although I didn't know it at the time, it marked a turning point in my life.

To me, the holidays are all about tradition and ritual. Traditions and rituals that we grow up with; traditions and rituals that we pass on to our children; and new traditions and rituals that we make or fall into by accident as years pass and families grow and blend.

When I was a child we almost always maintained the same holiday schedule. About two weeks before Christmas my Dad, brother and two sisters and I would head out into the woods near our farm, often with a horse or two, and cut down a Christmas tree. Then, on the evening of Dec. 23, Dad would take us out to look at Christmas lights in town. When we got back we found gifts from Santa under the tree and crumbs where the cookies we'd left for him used to be. (Mom told us that Santa delivered some gifts on the 23rd because there was just no way he could haul all of those presents in one trip.)

Dad would turn out all of the lights in the living room, except the ones on the Christmas tree, and light a big, home-made Christmas candle. Then, he'd sit us all down around the candle and read the story of the Nativity.

Next, we'd begin ripping open our presents in a frenzy -- paper, ribbons, pine needles and beagles flying. It was over in about three minutes flat.

The next evening we'd go to my Grandma Truesdell's house in Staples, where we'd feast on spaghetti.

Finally, we'd head to Hewitt. For the first 12 years of my life, the big Sellnow Christmas gathering was at my grandparents' farm.

Sometimes the Christmas tree was in the kitchen, and sometimes it was in the living room. But these things were the same every year: There were always lots of people and there was always lots of laughter. Grandma always gave each of us a small gift -- even after the family grew large enough to populate a small town. There was always plenty of pop and sweet red wine, strong coffee, home-smoked German sausage and counter tops covered with bars, fudge, cookies and cake.

But most of all, there was always a sense of love and warmth and togetherness in that house. Family.

By the early '70s Grandpa and Grandma had moved into a house in town, but they continued to host a Christmas family gathering. I hadn't been to one for several years when Dad and I showed up at the door that Christmas Eve night in '78.

"Come on in, boys," Grandpa said. "What can I get ya?"

That night was memorable because it marked the end of a long, cherished tradition for me.

Not long after that Grandpa suffered the first in a series of strokes that put him in a nursing home and then took his life. Many of us moved far away. Most of us started families of our own and created new holiday schedules that did not include trips to Grandma's house.

Over the years, my children have come to depend on certain traditions, too. Some are inspired by my childhood -- cutting down a tree, for example. Others were inspired by my wife's family traditions -- eating pizza on Christmas Eve and opening presents in an orderly (and excruciatingly slow) fashion, for example.

We've also created some of our own traditions. Each child gets a new theme ornament on tree decorating day, and when we can we open our gifts on Christmas morning. But we also get together with our extended families.

This year, for the first time in ages, we will celebrate Christmas with my siblings and their families on Dec. 23rd. Let the wrapping paper fly!

Happy holidays.


Now accepting nominations for Person of the Year 2011

It's time again for me to name a Person of the Year for southeastern Minnesota. This can be a statewide figure, such as governor, legislator or congressman, who had a strong influence on our readership area.

It could be a business owner or executive. It could be a sports figure. Or a member of the clergy. Or an unsung hero who helps others.

I'm looking for suggestions. Let me know within the next week. I'll name the 2011 Person of the Year in my Jan. 3 column.



Remember the old days when customer service was a virtue.

A story. On Saturday night I was finishing up the printing of my annual Sellnow Family Update that I send out to faraway friends and relatives when my printer ran out of black ink.

I wanted to get this wrapped up once and for all, so I got in the car and drove to a local retail establishment that sells ink cartridges. I can find ink at a cheaper price elsewhere, but I know exactly where the cartridges are at this particular business and it's easy to find parking. So I figured I could drive there, get in and out, and drive back home, all in less than 20 minutes.

When I arrived, an employee had just walked out the front door and had lit up a cigarette. "Sorry, man," he said. "We just closed." It was three minutes past the business's Saturday closing time.

He couldn't help but notice the look of disappointment on my face.

"What is it you need?" he asked.

Oh, thank-you, God, I thought. After I tell him that all I need is an ink cartridge and I know exactly where to find it, and it'll take him 30 seconds to ring it up and then I'm out the door, he's going to let me in. But I got only so far as "an ink cartridge; all I need is an ink cartridge," before he cut me off.

"Try Wal-Mart," he said.

So I did. I bought my ink cartridge at Wal-Mart and got home a half hour or so later than I'd planned.

Look, I'm not blaming the employee who refused to let me in a couple minutes after the official closing time. He was probably outside only because he needed a smoke. Otherwise, the door would have been locked and I would have had no interaction with anyone. Besides, he was probably under strict orders from his manager, who was under orders from HIS manager, who was under orders from Corporate to lock the doors, shut down the tills and to not under any circumstances let anyone in the store after the the big hand hits 12 at closing time.

But I miss the good old days when so many retail establishments were locally owned and the employees were empowered to accommodate customers, even if it meant staying open for a few extra minutes. It just makes good business sense.

Had the employee let me in, I would have been forever grateful and would likely have never gone anywhere else for ink cartridges in this town. Now, it might be a long time before I go back there.

Thanks to all of the retailers out there who DO go out of their way to accommodate customers — and there are many — especially this time of year when everyone is so stressed and busy.

Merry Christmas!



Best Christmas songs of the last decade — make that the last four years

Images-4A few days ago, I asked readers for suggestions for the best Christmas songs of the last decade. I didn't receive any nominations. One reader commented that there just haven't been any good Christmas songs released in the last decade. 

I disagree. You just have to spend a little time looking. Here are some excellent songs from my 2011 playlist:

10. "Peace on Earth Little Drummer Boy" (2010) Jack Black and Jason Segal. All right, this is a cover — of the 1977 arrangment featuring David Bowie and Bing Crosby. But it's great fun. Black and Segal, known more for their acting in comedy movies than as singers, pull this off.

9. "Getting Ready for Christmas" (2010). Paul Simon. Something different from the real king of pop.

8. "Don't Shoot Me Santa." (2007) The lead vocalist in this song, from the Killers' fine Christmas EP, sounds a whole lot like Roy Orbison. It's a quirky but catchy song that's easy on the ears. Don't pay much attention to the lyrics, though. They're weird and the music video is downright goofy.

7. "Come on Santa" (2009). The Raveonettes. Check out this Indy group's Christmas album if you get the chance. It's dreamy, like listening to music through water. But pleasant. 

6. "When the Bells Start Ringing" (2011). My Morning Jacket. Slow, nostalgic country from the Louisville-based rock band. It's not often you hear steel guitar in a Christmas song. Very nice change of pace.

5. "Christmas Day" (2011). She and Him. A collaboration between Indy icon M. Ward and TV star Zooey Deschanel, this comes from what I think is another of the best Christmas albums of the year. Vocals are mostly "she," but I think the best songs on this album are the ones featuring both of these talented young entertainers.

4. "Cowboy Christmas Ball" (2011). The Killers again. The spaghetti western-style video is hilarious.

3. "The Wonder Song" (2011). The Indigo Girls. Just one of many really good songs on this Christmas album. Rivals the Killers' and She and Him albums as one of the best holiday albums of the year.

2. "Christmas this Time of Year" (2010) TobyMac. Bouncy and Fresh, it's a wonderful feel-good tune from the hip-hop Christian recording artist, with help from Leigh Nash, lead singer of the Texas group Sixpence Non the Richer. 

1. Boots (2010). Another one from the Killers. Phenomenal vocals by Brandon Flowers and Dave Keuning. The video, featuring popular entertainer Ben Folds, is sort of cheesy, but it works. I bought the (RED) Christmas EP, not only because I like all six songs on it, but because all proceeds from it are donated to the Product Red campaign and the battle against AIDS in Africa.


Now accepting nominations for best Christmas songs of the past decade

Images-2Those of you who've been reading my column for a while know that I'm a big fan of Christmas music, and every year about this time I put together a new mix of music. For many years it was in the form of a mixed cassette tape. But for the last 10 years or so, I've simply put together a playlist of songs I've purchased from I-Tunes. I'll list the tunes on my Christmas 2012 playlist later this week. (It includes songs recorded by everyone from Eddie Arnold and Jim Reeves to "The Killers" and "She and Him."

In the meantime, I'm looking for nominations for my list of the "Best Christmas Songs of the Past Decade." The rules are that it has to have been recorded after 2000. Preference will be given to original new songs. But I will accept nominations that are covers of older tunes, new arrangements and remixes.

You might recall that last year I put together a list of the 10 most depressing holiday songs of all time. So if your Christmas season has been entirely too upbeat so far, you might want to check it out...  


It's time to dig out those Christmas ties and socks

Images-11A colleague today was bemoaning the fact that at 3:30 this afternoon it was already starting to get dark out. I told him to look on the bright side. A week from Wednesday is the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year; from that point on, the days will start to get longer.

In the meantime, I'm choosing to make the best of these dark and gloomy days by enjoying the Christmas lights and wearing the five Christmas ties and six pairs of Christmas socks that I own. Today, I'm wearing my Norman Rockwell tie — a reproduction of Rockwell's painting of Santa at his desk. On my feet are a pair of black socks with large, smiling Santas on them.

I've written this before, but it bears repeating. This is my favorite time of the year. I love the lights, and bright clothing, and Christmas music, and even the shopping. Yes, the days are short, but colored lights don't look all that impressive when the sun is shining.




"I'm Just sayin'" is defunct

No, I haven't decided to stop writing my column, although I'm sure that news might disappoint some of my detractors. We've just changed the name, to "Sellnow's Journal," so it now matches the title of this blog.

Some history: When I started writing this column — every other week back in 1994 — it didn't have a name. "Greg Sellnow" was enough for me. Then, a few years ago, all columnists who didn't already have catchy titles for their columns were asked to come up with them. Thus, were born "Furst Draft," "Jen's World" and Kiger's Notebook, among others. I was never enamored with "I'm just saying," but it was the best title I could come up with at the time that wasn't already taken. I thought it was at least a half-step above "For What It's Worth," which was the title of the first column I wrote, for a newspaper in Missouri, back in the ancient '80s, when my byline was Gregory Sellnow.

Several readers have criticized the "I'm Just Sayin'" title over the years, and that criticism increased about ten-fold, beginning in December of 2010. That month, National Public Radio host Scott Simon did an entire audio essay on how dumb he thinks the phrase is. Not long after that, Lake Superior State University added the phrase to its annual list of words (or phrases) to be banned from the language.

I know, I know. Sellnow's Journal isn't original and it certainly isn't all that catchy. But it does have my name on it, which is more important to me than a catchy slogan. So, unless there's an outcry from readers about the name change (not likely since I haven't received a single email or phone call about it so far) that's what I'm going to stick with from here on out.